By Nadia Khoury
Following on from the Voluntary Guidelines on the Realisation of the Right to Food (approved in 2004), intergovernmental negotiations on the text of new Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security (Voluntary Guidelines on Tenure), held at the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) in Rome, concluded on 9 March 2012.
Mr. Paul Mathieu, Senior Land Tenure Officer in the Land Tenure team at the FAO, emphasised that the Voluntary Guidelines on Tenure were developed through wide-ranging consultations around the world since 2009, involving thousands of participants from all sectors, including members of governments, international organisations, civil society organisations, farmers associations and private sector representatives. “The initiative to prepare the Voluntary Guidelines was taken in response to increasing requests to the FAO Land Tenure team for technical assistance that had a governance component in them”, explained Mr. Mathieu. “There was clearly a demand for guidance on those questions.”
The Voluntary Guidelines on Tenure are intended to be used as a reference tool in relation to the improved governance of tenure of land, fisheries and forests, with the ultimate aim of achieving food security. They recognise the central role of access to land, fisheries and forests in the context of development, since they are a source of food and shelter; yet, systems of tenure which regulate such access are coming under increasing pressure in the light of the world’s growing population, environmental degradation and climate change. The Guidelines therefore seek to promote the responsible governance of tenure with an emphasis on vulnerable and marginalised people, as well as the improvement and development of policy, legal and organisational frameworks which regulate tenure rights.
Mr. Mathieu noted that whilst the language, in parts, is of global application, the Voluntary Guidelines on Tenure in fact address concrete issues that were raised in the consultations. He feels that one of the key challenges in developing the Guidelines was “finding and respecting the balance between the diversity of the context-specific reality, and the universality of some land tenure and governance related problems recurring around the world.”
In particular, the Voluntary Guidelines on Tenure address governance of access and rights to land, fisheries and forests in the context of climate change and natural disasters. They highlight the role of the law in protecting the tenure rights of people likely to be affected by climate change, with an emphasis on community participation in the development of mitigation and adaptation programmes. The provisions on natural disasters draw attention to the importance of tenure in the context of disaster preparedness, disaster response and reconstruction, echoing some of the issues raised in the Disaster Law study on regulatory barriers to emergency and transitional shelter, and refer to the Pinheiro Principles on Housing and Property Restitution for Refugees and Displaced Persons and the Sphere Charter. Mr. Mathieu related that “the issues of climate change and natural disasters arose in several consultations, and they were considered to be significant elements affecting governance and land tenure. These are the types of problems that have increasing importance and visibility on the global scene.”
The Voluntary Guidelines on Tenure were negotiated and agreed by an ad hoc Open-Ended Working Group under the Committee on World Food Security (CFS), and will be considered for official endorsement by the CFS itself on 11 May 2012. Whilst the implementation of the Guidelines will be mainly demand-driven capacity-building. Mr. Mathieu anticipates that the FAO Land Tenure team will subsequently develop e-learning materials and manuals on specific issues in relation to tenure and governance, such as gender, forests or private investment.
The FAO Land Tenure team is also hosting a Voluntary Guidelines Photo Competition, which is open for submissions from the general public until 20 May 2012.